Well, when you're teaching a boy to work for the first time in his life and teaching him to sacrifice and suck up his guts when he's behind, which are lessons he has to learn sooner or later, you are going to find boys who are not willing to pay the price. Back when I played you didn't have a lot of boys quitting because most of us had nothing to go back to, with people on relief and starving to death. It's not that way anymore, except maybe with a few athletes, and today a lot of boys aren't prepared to sacrifice. They have to be taught.
When I finally got us training-table privileges I put it on a merit basis. I remember, our first game that year Texas Tech beat the devil out of us, and on Monday I only had five boys on training table. One of them was Bebes Stallings, who is the head coach at A&M now and was my assistant at Alabama for seven years. It was just like the time Coach Hank Crisp got up and bragged on me and got me to play when I had a broken bone in my leg. I said, "Gentlemen"—Bebes talks about this all the time—"we're just going to have people at that table who will go all out and be proud of that uniform and make us proud he's wearing it, and this little old skinny boy here"—I pointed to Stallings—"is going to be one of them."
After you get to know your material you are pretty sure who is going to quit and who isn't—I mean quit on the field, where it matters—and you have to be prepared for it. A lot of times I've been wrong. But if a boy quits the team the chances are he'll take somebody with him, and you don't want that. So when they would start acting that way I used to pack them up and get them out, or embarrass them, or do something to turn them around. It's always sad, really, because if a kid quits I've got to feel I've failed—not him or his daddy or anybody else, but me. I've failed by selecting him in the first place, or by not handling him right.
We were losing all those boys at Junction that year, and I had been trying to embarrass this big old center into becoming something besides deadweight. He'd made All-Conference the year before, but we graded the films and he didn't grade higher than 37% in any of them. He could have been a good football player and I was after him, and right in the middle of practice he started walking off the field. I didn't know what to do. Never had had that happen, because most boys quit where they won't be noticed. I said, "Young man, where you going?" No answer. "You better think about it now." He didn't say a word, just kept walking.
Well, when we got back to the place that night and lined up to eat he was first in line. Big son of a gun, and I was scared of him, too. I said, "Young fella, you must be making a mistake. A&M football players eat here." "You mean I can't eat here?" "I mean exactly that. You can't ever eat here again."
He turned and left, and about 10 o'clock Benny Sinclair, our captain, came and asked me to take him back. Well, I think I won Benny right there. I said, "Benny, I'm not going to take him back. He's quit before, hasn't he?" He said, "Yessir, lots of times." I said, "This is the last time. We want players we can count on. We've got a long way to go, and we don't want anybody laying down once we get started."
Well, the next day the headlines are this big. We'd fired an All-Conference center. And about 5 o'clock that morning I looked up and here come five more of them, all centers, a delegation of them, which means I won't have a center left. I didn't give them a chance to say anything, just walked out and said, "Good morning, gentlemen," and shook their hands right down the line. "Goodby, goodby, bless your hearts, goodby."
So we called a squad meeting. I said, "Fellows, there ain't many of us left. We're not fainthearted, but we're in a helluva fix. It's not worrying me, because I know the kinda folks I got left. We'll do all right, but we gotta have somebody to snap the ball back. Anybody ever play center?" No, sir. I said, "Well, does anybody want to play center?" And I'll never forget it. Lloyd Hale, a little old sophomore guard, walked out and said, "I will play center," and outside of Paul Crane he was the best offensive center I ever had. He played every minute of every game and as a senior made All-Conference unanimously.
I remember, we took those 27 little boys to Athens to play Georgia the third game that year. Old Lloyd wasn't much for long snapbacks, so we had our manager suited up to center the ball for fourth-down punts. Harry Mehre and Ed Danforth of the Atlanta papers didn't believe what they saw. "You mean this is all the players you got?" I said, "No, these are the ones that want to play." And damned if they didn't beat Georgia 6-0, the only game we won all year.
Well, you say, what kind of coaching is that when you lose about 100 boys and keep only 27? I have to believe I wouldn't lose that many today, because I'm not the driver I was and I probably don't demand as much, but let me tell you that was the beginning of a change in attitude at A&M. It was never easy, though. The press was on me from the start, and some of the stuff that came out of Fort Worth and other cities was really rough. The thing I resented most, though, was that every time something came up, usually at recruiting time or before a big game, a rumor would start about us going on probation or, after we were on probation, about staying there. Anything to foul us up.